Building Comprehension With Prediction Strategies

25 September 2016 / Leave a Comment
Studies on good readers have proven that prediction strategies are one way to deepen reading comprehension. Prediction strategies can be used before and during reading to increase understanding of fiction and non-fiction text.


Teaching Kids To Be The Change

23 September 2016 / Leave a Comment
Teaching kids to be the change! How values and actions impact communities.
We start our school year by teaching kids to take action and be the change in their communities.  We help our students to identify their communities. We focus on the central idea that, "The values and actions of individuals impact communities."  We explore values, rights and responsibilities, and the impact they have on different communities in the student's lives and the lives of others around the world.

Kid president has several videos that help get this message across, but we like to start with this one. 

We read many of the classic back to school read aloud books such as:

  • Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
  • A Fine, Fine, School by Sharon Creech
  • Me First by Helen Lester
  • Decibella by Julia Cook
  • Spaghetti In A Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy
  • The Name Jar by Yansook Choi
  • My Mouth Is A Volcano by Julia Cook
  • What If Everybody Did That? by Elen Javernick
With each of these books we focus our discussion around the values that are displayed by the different characters, and the impact of their actions on the community around them.  Not only does this help us to have discussions about what we want our own classroom community to look like, it helps us jump off into the larger concept of our responsibility to our global community.

Have you been to Disney's Citizen Kid website yet?  If not, you really need to check it out! It is filled with inspiring videos and pictures of kids around the world taking action to be the change in the world!  We watch several of these video clips and use a graphic organizer to record the community, the citizen, the action and the impact in each video.

We also recently discovered Epic has many wonderful  FREE books that support this unit, these are just a few that we have read so far!

These are just a few of the resources we use to inspire our students to be the change in the world.  To read more about some additional resources on this topic please check out these posts on my blog Mom2punkerdoo.


Demonstrate understanding of concepts using visual representations

21 September 2016 / Leave a Comment
Teachers can help students remember the important steps by having them create scientific drawings. By developing their own visual representations, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of a complex idea.
The process of photosynthesis can be a tricky concept for students to understand. Teachers can help students remember the important steps by having them create scientific drawings. By developing their own visual representations, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of a complex idea.

When I teach students about the plant cell and how it is able to use the sun's energy to combine molecules of carbon dioxide and water to create glucose for energy, I tend to lose them at the word "molecules". An abstract concept like this requires more than just a brief summary. I've found that students do best when introduced to a concept in a variety of ways.

I'm a sucker for a good BrainPop video. Tim and Moby crack me up. I always start this unit by watching their video on photosynthesis. Next I make the analogy between photosynthesis and a recipe. Oh, the stories I tell about how I CANNOT make a meal to save my life. I burn boiled eggs. Yes, I am a failure in the kitchen. If only I could be a chloroplast and make my own food from two ingredients. HA! Students take notes and we work to fill out a recipe card for photosynthesis.
Teachers can help students remember the important steps by having them create scientific drawings. By developing their own visual representations, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of a complex idea.
One way I help students visualize photosynthesis at the molecular level is with a simple candy modeling activity. I found this activity years ago here. It's free and definitely a favorite every year! Students build molecules of water and carbon dioxide. Then they "photosynthesize" by breaking apart the molecules and forming a molecules of glucose, water and oxygen.
Teachers can help students remember the important steps by having them create scientific drawings. By developing their own visual representations, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of a complex idea.
I've tweaked this activity a bit because my students are always begging me to let them eat the candies. I tell them they are a plant today and can ONLY eat glucose. The oxygen molecules are released as waste (they throw those in the trash can) and the extra water is stored in the vacuole. I tel them the water has to be put in their pocket for later. Just another way to make a connection between the "fun" and the learning.
Teachers can help students remember the important steps by having them create scientific drawings. By developing their own visual representations, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of a complex idea.
I also provide them with a copy of the game board to glue into their journals. We count atoms of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen before and after photosynthesis. We color code the diagrams. In this way students are able to see that photosynthesis is a chemical reaction between substances that recombines them into something useful to the plants and animals.

Where I struggle is how to determine if students understand what was taught. This year I tried something different from a formal written test. I started class by placing this cartoon on the board. I asked students to talk with their groups and come up with an explanation for the image.
Teachers can help students remember the important steps by having them create scientific drawings. By developing their own visual representations, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of a complex idea.
Next, I challenge them to create their own visual representations for each step of photosynthesis. I provided students with a template for a flip-flap booklet and sent them to work. Thirty minutes later I was laughing as I reviewed some of their work. It was very clear who understood what was happening during the process of photosynthesis. It was also obvious who shared my cheesy sense of humor. Here are some of my favorites:
Teachers can help students remember the important steps by having them create scientific drawings. By developing their own visual representations, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of a complex idea.
I adore the chloroplast soaking up the sun's energy on the beach (1).
Teachers can help students remember the important steps by having them create scientific drawings. By developing their own visual representations, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of a complex idea.
I also love the plant pouring the extra water into the vacuole.
Teachers can help students remember the important steps by having them create scientific drawings. By developing their own visual representations, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of a complex idea.
How perfect is this one? Water and oxygen "combine" (4) to make glucose.
Teachers can help students remember the important steps by having them create scientific drawings. By developing their own visual representations, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of a complex idea.
My all time favorite is the adorable smiling chloroplast delivering an order of glucose to the plant. I was busting out laughing in the middle of class when I saw this one. Such creativity!

I'd love to connect with you on Instagram where I share even more ideas - straight from my fifth grade STEM classroom.

Note: If you're interested in the template for the flip-flap interactive notebook activity, check out my TpT store here.

3 Ways to Improve Parent-Teacher Communication

17 September 2016 / 2 comments
Parent Teacher Conferences

There is no doubt that when parents and teachers work together, students benefit immensely. Yet, for a variety of reasons, communication between the two parties is not always optimal, and is sometimes even negative or counterproductive.

As teachers, there are some things over which we have no control.  For example, perhaps a parent had a difficult time as a student herself, so she finds school-related experiences to be stressful. Maybe a student's parents are divorcing and the home situation is difficult. It could also be that a parent simply has not yet learned good parenting skills, even though they may be trying. And yes, there is the occasional parent who just does not care at all. After 20 years of teaching, however, I think the instances of a parent truly not caring are few and far between. 

While we can't change these things, we can certainly change our response and approach to parents to make the relationship more positive and beneficial. Here are 3 ways to improve parent-teacher communication:

1.  Begin with the positive. 
The way you start a conference or a conversation  will set the tone for the entire school year. Keep in mind that every student is someone's child, is deserving of love and kindness, and has positive traits and qualities. Draw on the strengths of the student to plan things to say at the start of the discussion. 

I use what I call the 3 to 1 Rule for conferences. For every 3 strengths and positive statements about a child, I will list 1 area that needs work.  I actually try to make it greater than 3 to 1, but at the very minimum, strive for 3 positives to every 1 area needing improvement. 

2.  Get organized.
If you know a student is having difficulty with reading fluency, gather your data and information to support your professional opinion. You probably wouldn't give much credibility to a doctor who told you that you had an illness if he had no test results or data to back up his opinion. Parents need that valuable piece of measurable data to buy in to your viewpoint.

For organization, I suggest having one folder for each student. This folder will be used to drive the conversation and will be sent home with the parent following the conference, so be sure to make copies of papers you need for your own files. Inside the folder, you need to have 2 types of data and information:
  • Subjective: Observations, writing samples, feelings, thoughts, strengths, weaknesses
  • Objective: Report cards, grades, benchmark scores, standardized test scores, measurable data
It does take time to prepare the folders ahead of time, but you will be amazed at how much more smoothly your conferences will run. It definitely creates a setting for a more productive parent-teacher conference!

3. Follow through. 
If you have ever known someone who says they will do something, and fails to deliver on their promise, you know how frustrating that can be. Don't be that person. If you say you are going to call the parent in 2 weeks, make a note and call them. If you promise that you will work on multiplication flashcards with a student for 5 minutes every morning, then do it. If you give your word that you will talk to the secretary about sending a form home, keep you word. 

If you want parents to trust you and build a positive relationship, then it is essential that they know you are a person who they can count on.  Once the trust is there, you can work much more effectively as a team.

If you are interested in registering for my FREE WEBINAR, "Effective Parent Conferences and Communication - Working Together," please click HERE. In this webinar, I share a variety of strategies and tips to help you approach parent conferencing with less stress! 

If you are looking for an easy-to-use Parent Conference Forms Packet, you can find one HERE in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. It is one of my best seller with loads of amazing feedback from teachers who have benefitted from having their most positive, productive parent conferences ever!

Thanks so much for visiting!  I'd love to connect with you on my Facebook page, Appletastic Learning!

5 words to build classroom community

15 September 2016 / 1 comment

It is amazing how the words we use and the actions we take in the first moments of the first day can carry a lasting impression on our students both for better and for worse.  We can adapt the language we use in the classroom to convey a growth mindset  and we can change how we praise to be more effective.  Positive talk can be powerful and directly impact students' performance and behavior.

In that same vein, I have a quick tip for using an empowering community building phrase that will encourage independence, friendship, and kindness in the classroom.  Oh, and it is only 5 you will have no problem implementing it in your classroom right now.

5 simple words to build classroom community:

"Can you help with that?"

Here is a common scenario in the classroom:  You have many students with all different needs - Carlos has a question, Ava can't find her notebook, and Claire needs help finding a book.  And this is usually in the first five minutes of the day!  Sure a strong routine and an organized classroom can cut-down on some of this. However, your students will legitimately need help a billion times each day and our job as teachers is to solve problems or guide students as they solve their own.

I suggest you pass the buck, so to speak.  Instead of addressing all needs on your own, turn to another student and say, "Can you help with that?"  It does not matter if that student is an expert in that topic, but by pulling this student into the solution, you are doing three essential things:

1. Empowering students

Both the newly appointed student helper and their helpee are now working together to solve the problem. This increases problem solving skills, communication, and independence.

2. Building community 

Students see themselves as teachers and helpers in the classroom.  Students feel comfortable both asking and giving help in a room that is set up to support that.

I can say we are a team until I'm blue in the face, but by encouraging students to actively help each other, I am making them into teammates.

3. Making students feel valued  

If every student is a go-to helper, students will feel respected and valued in your classroom.  When you ask a student to help, you are showing the student that you trust him or her.

How to use the 5 simple words to build classroom community

A few things to think about before using this simple 5 word phrase.  First of all, you are going to be tempted to always have the same few students help.  These students have probably been teacher's unofficial sidekicks their entire school career and have been really good at it.

Therefore, try to pick any student - let him or her rise to the occasion.  Sometimes this will result in the problem not being solved.  That is ok.  The most important part is that they tried and that they worked together.

Also, you can have students help even for tasks that help was not requested.  For example, maybe you notice a student's book bin is disorganized or he or she is having trouble zipping a backpack.  Appoint a quick helper!

You might need to be ok with some whispers during independent work time or students moving about occasionally.  Helping doesn't occur in a silent vacuum!

How can 5 simple words build classroom community?

The best part of these 5 words is after awhile, you won't need to say them as much.  In fact, if you encourage students to help each other from day 1, they will begin to do it unprompted!

I love when I ask students to turn to a page in their workbook and I see right away a bunch of them turning and helping their neighbor find the right page.  When it is time for math, I see a bunch of students hop up and get bins for each other.  And sometimes you will have student experts emerge organically. One of my students become the go-to organizer.  Other students would go to her directly for help or tips!

So start encouraging students to help each other by assigning a helper on the spot.  Turn "I can help you" into "Can you help with that?" and watch your classroom community grow!


4 Quick and Easy Ways to Get Students to Collaborate

11 September 2016 / 3 comments
Back to School means back to thinking of ways to get your kiddos to work together. 
 Here are just a few ways you can easily encourage student collaboration.

#1:  Teach and Practice Team Building Activities
 Many teachers incorporate trust and team building activities at the beginning of the school year.  That's truly too bad.  Such important skills are learned when we make them work in groups.  A simple task of creating the tallest tower with index cards can become a teachable moment about attitude, communication, and cooperation.  

My class has a team building activity every Friday.  I give them the task, sort them into groups, and let them try to complete the task.  After about 10 mins into the activity we stop, reconvene, and discuss what's working well and what we need to fix.  I send them back and we finish out the activity.  We then meet one more time as a whole class and compare experiences.  By doing this my students are encouraged to give constructive feedback to one another.  They LOVE it and some of their answers are incredibly insightful!

#2: Team Writing Activities

I know you're probably thinking... writing?  How does that encourage collaboration.  Here are some ways I create collaborative moments between my students while including writing.  
  • Mind Map:  Students are given a topic to write about as a group.  They are all held responsible for the big anchor chart turned in.
  • Pencil Talk:  Sometimes I encourage my students to work collaboratively but without SAYING a word.  They must communicate solely by handwriting.
  • Morning Message:  I've been utilizing my hectic morning time to have my students respond to a prompt, question, or job left on the board.  They then have to work in their group to complete the message.

 #3:  Make Feedback Fun

If you have  not heard of TAG Feedback, you are missing out.  When my students work in partners I will sometimes ask them to use this method of giving academic feedback becauase it helps them be specific.  First one partner watches what the other is doing.  When the person finishes they tag the observer.  That's when TAG comes in. 
  • Tell the them something they did well.
  • Ask them a question about their thinking.
  • Give a suggestion.
Once they're done, they tag in for their turn to work and be observed.  This cycle continues until the activity or time is up.  My kids are OBSESSED!

#4: Partners Can Make the Best Coaches

I'm sure you're thinking, "I already have my kids in partners."  Well,  I do a few extra things that help foster more collaboration.  When I'm pairing them up I think about the purpose of the partner work.  That helps me decide whether to do ability pairing or just randomize it.  Regardless I then have my students practice watching and coaching one other as they take turns working.  This is not an easy skill but if you put it in the context of sports they get it.  For example, if you were playing football your coach will show you the steps to throwing the perfect spiral but they will not throw the ball for you.  The same goes for partner coaching.  The coach has to flip their own paper over so they're not tempted to cheat, and then they become the expert.  The other student can ask questions or for suggestions.  Then they switch. 

Good luck and happy collaborating this new school year!


3 Sanity-Saving Classroom Routines

07 September 2016 / Leave a Comment

Hi all!  It's Kady from Teacher Trap!  With the start of a new school year, I very quickly remembered my 3 favorite classroom routines and I want to share them with you today!  These routines have truly saved my sanity and made classroom management SO MUCH EASIER!

1. Morning Supply Check

This idea came to me after many frustrations with students not having supplies ready for the day. I can't stand hearing the pencil sharpener running during the school day, or hearing students complain that they don't have a glue stick while we're in the middle of a lesson.

In my room, students each have their own supply box, kept in their desk, and are responsible for having a certain set of supplies ready each day.  The supplies include: scissors, glue stick, markers in all basic colors, 2 sharpened pencils, 1 pen, 1 dry-erase marker, and 1 box of crayons.  (Everything else is shared as community supplies.)

The routine is simple.  As part of their morning jobs, students are supposed to prepare their supplies for the day.  Then, when announcements end, we do a quick "Supply Check."  (At our school we use "Dollars" as classroom incentives and students can use the Dollars to purchase rewards and privileges at a school store.  You could replace the Dollars with any little reward though!)  For the "Supply Check" I call out 3 different supplies from their box and students hold them up.  If they have all 3, students earn a Dollar.  For example, I might say, "Hold up your two sharpened pencils, a yellow marker, and your scissors."  Dollars all around!

This routine is quick and easy, and for me, has amazing results!  No more interruptions due to missing supplies.  Plus, students have to take responsibility for being prepared for the day.  The only time students may talk to me about missing supplies is BEFORE morning announcements when they are checking their box.

2. Restroom Responsibilities  

Bathroom breaks are another common interruption that I DO NOT want to hear about during the day. My bathroom routine is simple and I teach it to students on the very first day of school:

You know your own body.  You know when you need to go.  Take care of yourself but don't miss learning.

As a class, we discuss and chart "Good Times to Go" and "Not Good Times to Go."  Students are welcome to use the restroom or get water during any independent work times, during classroom breaks (like GoNoodle time!), or during partner or group activities if they go quickly.  We discuss the importance of being in the room during carpet meetings, lessons, and directions.

At my school, we have a bathroom in the classroom, so I train students to watch for times when the bathroom is empty rather than waiting near the door.  Before, when my students used the hallway bathroom, I used a little sign-out on a whiteboard where students wrote their name when they left and crossed it off when they returned.

I've done this procedure successfully with both first and third-graders.  I always explain that I am trusting students to make good choices.  If I see students abusing this system or choosing poor times, they can lose the privilege of going whenever and will have to raise their hands and ask for permission.  Amazingly, this has NEVER happened.  The kids seem to want this freedom so they make sure they don't lose it.

3. No "I'm Done."

This one changed my room big time!!  In fact, I wrote an entire blog post about this routine! During the first few days of school this year, I immediately remembered why I love this routine so much! After every activity, it was like a whack-a-mole of "I'm Done's."  "I'm done.  What do I do now?" Students were rushing through every activity to be the first to finish, or to find out what was next.  I was getting messy, half-finished work all over the place.

So on the third day of school, I introduced this routine.  I explained that sometimes there is no "I'm done."  That during many activities, I would expect students to use the entire time to improve or add to their work.  Writing Workshop is a great time to teach this because during independent writing time, I expect students to keep writing until the time is up.  We made a list of ways to improve or add on to work including rereading, adding details, and checking for mistakes.

I have cards on magnets that list the options for what students will do after finishing independent work.  They include: "Read Quietly"  "Begin Next Assignment"  and "No "I'm Done."  I use the "No "I'm Done" card more than any other because I want students to get in the habit of using all their work time and doing their best.  The kids quickly learn that there is no reward for being the first done or rushing through their work.

These simple routines have made such a difference in my classroom!  If you're struggling with the same issues I was, try it out!  And if you're looking for more ideas for routines and procedures, you might like my Editable Classroom Handbook.

I'd love to hear what other classroom routines have made your life easier!  Thanks for reading!


Building a Classroom Community

05 September 2016 / Leave a Comment
Teambuilding and Classbuilding ideas to help your students feel valued and important to the class.

Teachers have an important task at the beginning of each school year - to help the students in their classroom become a cohesive unit that can truly work together as the year progresses.  It's important to me that my students feel like our classroom is a family, where they are loved and accepted, safe and respected. Developing a positive classroom community takes time, but it is time well-invested. Follow these tips to build a positive community in your own classroom this year! 


Research has even shown that a teacher's relationships with her students has a greater impact on student learning than the teacher's content knowledge! In other words, it doesn't matter how much you know if your students don't know how much you care about them. Relationship-building should be intentionally built into your classroom through lessons and activities. It can be tempting to think we don't have the time to "waste" on relationship-building, but that's just not true! It's so important.


All students (and people in general) have a deep, psychological need to belong. They need to know they are accepted and valued by the teacher and other students in the class.  One of my favorite ways to help my classroom feel more like a family is to have Family Meetings at the beginning and end of the day. I bring students together in a circle in the mornings and afternoons to have group discussions, solve problems we may be experiencing, and share positive affirmations. Some people have these meetings only once a week, but my students are most responsive when I host them every day. We begin and end the day together on the carpet. I lead the meetings at the beginning of the year, but then teach students how to take over ownership. In time, the students learn the protocol for how a family meeting is held and are leading them out. This time is really cherished by the students!


In order for students to truly work together in cooperative learning groups, they need to have time to get to know their team members more closely. This is why teambuilding activities are so important! Teambuilding Activities encourage students get to know one another better and develop positive peer affiliations.  Teambuilding is truly the foundation for cooperative learning tasks to be successful because it helps students learn how to interact within small groups. The first few weeks back in school are crucial for students to engage in teambuilding activities.  Some ideas for teambuilding activities include: 

  • Team Motto/Mascot/Pennant/Shirt/Slogan, etc - Have students work as a team to design something and be prepared to explain the meaning behind what they designed. This is a great activity for table groups or teams that will be working together more often. 

  • 2 Facts and a Fib -  This one is so much fun! Each person has to write down 2 facts and 1 fib about himself or herself. The team has to agree on what they think the fib is, then share out. I always model this one out at the teacher first, and I stump them every time! ("Yes, guys, I really was born during an earthquake, and no, that wasn't the fib!")


Teambuilding is a great way to teach students how to interact with one another in small groups, but Classbuilding intentionally teaches them how to interact with one another as a whole group. It is important to help your students build a class identity while still valuing the differences that make each student a unique member of the class. So often, they will form strong group bonds, so we need to get them out of their seats and interacting with people they don't always talk to! These activities are a fun way to mix up the class and get students building connections with new people. 

  • Line ups - Line ups have students line up in order of shoe size, birthdays, number of siblings, from tallest to shortest, etc. Fold the Line Up for a fun discussion. Just have students at one end "fold the line" by walking back to the other end so each student is standing in front of another, then have them chat about a specific topic.

  • Four Corners - Assign each corner a statement, such as Strongly Agree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree, Strongly Disagree. Then read out statements and have students self-select which corner best describes their opinion on the topic. They can chat with members in the same corner about what they have in common or share out why they identify with that statement. 

Teambuilding and Classbuilding ideas to help your students feel valued and important to the class.

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What You Never Learned in College

03 September 2016 / Leave a Comment
There are a few things that my teaching degree did not prepare me for when I actually entered the classroom. One has to do with how to manage bathroom breaks, which I won't even get into, but the other is the PENCIL PROBLEM! Oh...I can't even begin to explain how much time has been wasted in my years of teaching dealing with pencil drama. I have recently noticed many teachers asking the question in various Facebook groups about how to deal with pencils, pencil "wars", pencil programs, filling up bags each week with pencils, labeling pencils.... I decided I'd share my SIMPLE proved-to-work method. Sadly, it took me a good 10 years to figure it out....and it's pretty easy!

Like I said, the pencil problem is a big one, for all ages. They disappear, they are constantly asking you to sharpen them, or if you have one of those sets of sharp/dull cups, they are constantly getting up and wandering around just to "trade" their pencil. To someone that doesn't teach, this probably sounds so silly and trivial. To those that teach elementary school, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Here's the system that I am using now and it's the best one yet! Before the school year starts, I sharpen as many pencils as I can. (Recruit your kids and spouse to help you!) I am thinking I easily have a couple hundred sharpened. Then, at each group I have a caddy with supplies. I fill a cup of pencils at each group with MORE THAN ENOUGH for the 4-6 kids that sit there. They always use these pencils, put them back when they are dull or broken, and they don't leave their seats. 

Then what? It may seem hard to believe, but I only have to trade out their pencil supply about once a week. I usually do this on Friday while they are having their "Fun Friday" time.  It only takes a few minutes!  I have that big box of pencils that I keep sharpened, so I simply go around to each caddy, pour the whole cup into a separate "broken" pencil box, whether they are broken or not, they all get dumped. Then replenish with pencils from my stash of sharpened pencils. THEN, as time permits, a few minutes each morning, or whenever I can find a few minutes,  I just work on re-sharpening the pencils in that "broken" pencil box and add them back to the sharpened pencil box.

Here are my two boxes. I was working on sharpening and adding to the sharpened pencil box. These are put away in a cupboard normally. The kids don't ever get into these. Students only use the pencils in their cups and it's never a problem because there are plenty for them to use.

The most time consuming part of this is getting the large quantity of pencils ready before school starts, but it's honestly worth it. Last year, at the end of the year, I actually took all of the pencils I had left and I had some trustworthy students help me get them sharpened. That was a nice surprise when I came back to my classroom for the new school year, one less thing to do.

I have had a few groups have the problem of their cup of pencils disappearing fast and of course they are stashing them in their desks. Whenever we clean desks, I have them search for pencils and add them to the cups. The kids understand that our pencils are "community" pencils.

That reminds me of another point. What about the cute, fancy pencils the kids like to use? Nope, we don't have time for that. Those will ruin the electric pencil sharpener and I just tell them that we only use yellow pencils at school and they can feel free to use those at home for homework! I've gone through too many expensive electric pencil sharpeners over the years to let those plastic coated ones ruin another one.

Another problem you may have is that they pick through the pencils to find the best erasers. (That will start a couple months into the school year.) I simply got cap erasers and put a cup of those in each caddy for them to add to the pencils without erasers. Let the kids do the work! There are 20+ of them and only ONE of you! They seemed to love that and it made each pencil like new again.

Obviously, all of these ideas are very simple ones that any teacher could come up with, but with all of these pencil wars and strategies that I've noticed floating around Facebook and blog posts, all I can think is that I don't have time for all of that! Just give them A LOT of pencils, change them out regularly, and you will quickly create more time to teach and learn! That's what it's all about!


Can competition lead to increased comprehension?

01 September 2016 / 1 comment

Can competition lead to increased comprehension? This seems like a bad combo. We've nearly eliminated competitiveness in some schools -- sometimes to ridiculous extremes. However, we usually try to avoid it in class. We don't want one student to be the best at something -- all students can succeed. So, why would I have this idea and what successes have I experienced that prompted me to explore this idea?

80's Childhood and Reading Machines

I have to briefly go back to my childhood in the 80s first. I was a voracious reader as soon as I started reading. I was one of those kids who had a book for every car trip and tried to read in the dark (you know, wait for each street light so you can read a few more words). My school had a reading tool that they used. I have searched for the actual item on the internet and haven't found it. If you know what it is, please let me know! We called it a reading machine. You had a reading passage that you would feed into the top of the machine. It would roll around a large cylinder and only show you a line at a time. It would continuously advance based upon the reading rate for which it was set. Once you finished "reading" the passage you would take a comprehension quiz. If you passed the quiz (I can't remember if you needed 100% or some other passing grade) you would advance on to the next speed. Now, I am not recommending this method and haven't thought about it in a while. I wouldn't say I was reading for enjoyment at all, but I did learn to skim passages quickly which is a great skills for more advanced courses. I loved it. I loved challenging myself to advance to the next level. It was like a game. A game for good readers. I'll share a few tips below for individual competitions.

Scholastic News for Close Reading

Fast forward to last year in my 3rd grade classroom. We use Scholastic News and last year we really enjoyed all the benefits of using the additional resources in the electronic version. The students loved voting on issues and seeing if their results matched the results of kids around the world. The other thing that was a huge hit were the quizzes. I didn't start out doing them all the time and then the kids kept asking for them. I was completely sold on this version of quizzing when I saw some close reading taking place. The game board has different point rewards for each category. The least complex questions would gain the fewest points, etc. I would divide the class into teams. The team (either a team representative or someone I chose) would choose the category. I would display the question and the team would decide on an answer. If they didn't immediately know the answer, the whole group would grab their Scholastic News and start searching and reading everything again carefully! That's what we are always hoping they will do!

Valuable Competition

I think some competition can be valuable. You can compete against others or top your own records.

For individual competition, my students enjoy a reading board that has bead chain necklaces. They get a bead for each 100 minutes that they read. They get a special bead or charm for each 500 minutes that they read. Some of my students have been very motivated to read as they see others start to fill their necklace.

Team competitions can be a quiz like the ones I mentioned or a variety of learning games. Make sure the teams are fair and change players at times. Be mindful of any team winning all the time. Then you would want to switch things up and make it more equitable.

In my classroom, adding the element of competition has also shown increased engagement, an opportunity to practice teamwork, purposeful answers (to make sure they get the points) and reading things more carefully.

Animals of Africa powerpoint

Powerpoint Classroom Quiz

1. Create a quiz using this powerpoint template (or use the included African Animals quiz and research pages). Just click on the picture above to download this quiz and 3 African animal research papers. Click here to get a powerpoint with the blank game board. Just add your own text boxes.  

2. Everyone reads the passage silently (chapter, multiple passages, etc.). Tell them there will be a game with questions from the passage so they need to read carefully.

3. Divide the class into teams (2-4 teams). Choose a team to start.

4. Show the board. The 1st team chooses a category and point value. They can look back to find the answer. Designate someone as an official team spokesperson (someone who will listen to others).  Ask, is that your final answer to make sure the team agrees. If they miss it, you can tell the answer and/or show where it is in the passage. The team only gets points for the correct answer. 

5. The team with the most points wins!

Have a great week!

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